This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.
If you’re anything like me, before you saw it you knew Brokeback Mountain as just the gay cowboy movie, or that film where Donnie Darko and the Joker get jiggy in a tent. Technically this is true, and it’s the reason the film has such notoriety – it’s not often that such a high profile film centres around a homosexual relationship between two otherwise straight male characters – but there’s a great deal more to this film besides that one aspect. Continue reading →
Charlie Kaufman has often been described as a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. The legend goes that there are twelve different stories in every film in Hollywood, and with his debut script Being John Malkovich, Kaufman wrote the thirteenth, and there’re so many ideas in Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that they probably count for numbers fourteen through twenty, and fortunately they’re all on the List. So after working on so many inspiring and imaginative modern classics, Kaufman’s directorial debut is a disappointingly convoluted tangle, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s theatre director Caden Cotard struggles to create a play based on his own life, whilst struggling with a myriad of relationships and a mystery illness.
Whilst the entirety of the plot – also written by Kaufman – is positively brimming with ideas and ingenuity, from Caden seeing himself in cartoons and commercials, to a character living in a perpetually burning house, the lack of clarity between how much takes place in the real world, how much is in the obsessive director’s head and how much is part of the play is at best frustrating and at times infuriating. It doesn’t help that many of the actors look alike, possibly on purpose, with Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Emily Watson all used to play the same character in different levels of life, with the play being featured in the play, requiring Caden to cast himself, casting himself in the play of his own life. Time skips in the blink of an eye for us and for him – his four year old daughter with Catherine Keener’s bohemian artist ages seven years in a matter of days.
You get the feeling that the end result of the film is exactly what Kaufman set out to achieve, with every layer of obsession and confusion being carefully planned and perfectly executed, but when I tried to make some sense of it all, my brain started to run out of my ear.
Another one I’d never seen before, Brokeback Mountain has a reputation to live up to, but of what I didn’t really know. Yes, I was aware it was about two cowboys, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall, and that between these two, something happened in a tent, involving at least one of their man-parts and the other’s posterior, but as to how this would support a feature length picture I did not know. Wisely, director Ang Lee gets past the, ahem, climax early on, spending a greater deal of time depicting the aftermath of the relationship Ledger’s ranch hand Ennis Del Mar and Gyllenhall’s rodeo cowboy Jack Twist form on the time they spend herding goats together. Ledger easily surpasses Gyllenhall on the acting front, mumbling his way through the difficulties that come with having an affair, and Michelle Williams also impresses as his put-upon spouse, realising the truth about her husband yet living in acceptance and despair. The slow pace of the film allowed for some great character interactions too, and I approved of the film only featuring important sections from the central relationship and nothing else, with what some would describe as pivotal events – Twist’s marriage to rodeo girl Anne Hathaway or the birth of Del Mar’s two children – being skipped entirely, as to the main couple these were of secondary importance to the connection the two had with each other. Choose film 7/10